It's been a long time since I've been worried - OK, been almost angry - about the state of the game, but two Tuesday night results (nay, travesties) got my blood boiling all over again.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that NHL hockey has magically gotten more exciting during the 2013-14 season. It's just that there have been superior distractions.
The 2014 Olympics added some valuable variety and served as a nice palate cleanser during what's normally the slowest time of the NHL season.* After that, an unusually fantastic trade deadline brings novelty that still is paying off (hey, Thomas Vanek didn't just finally score for Montreal … he collected a hat trick!**)
Thanks to those welcome changeups, it wasn't until last night that the big, bad "we could be in for months of hockey that isn't nearly as interesting as it could be" Boogie Man shuffled his way under my bed.
And it all happened because of the strong work of two Daily Dose goaltending favorites Roberto Luongo and Anton Khudobin. Not that it's really their fault, if you follow me. Actually, let me explain …
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ONE MAN'S NAIL-BITER
Everyday folks find it bewildering, but when you write about the league at large for long enough, there's a chance that your prejudices and favorites dissolve or at least morph into something different. (Of course, that changed perspective might also be a matter of approach; I recall Puck Daddy's Greg Wyshynski and The Globe & Mail's James Mirtle providing very different takes on this subject a while ago.)
For me, it was a gradual process. My childhood team experienced a pronounced period of putridity around my college years, forcing me to take on a few foster teams and eventually broaden my fandom. After that, blogging/writing - for free while working awful jobs and then for a living - only muddied the waters of fandom even more.
At this point, I find myself rooting for stories to an extent. But more than that, I root for entertainment.
Watching an astounding amount of hockey is mostly an astoundingly good thing, yet things change a bit when you're not rooting for your team. The fear of a harmless point shot becoming a tide-turning goal can change into yawning at what will almost certainly be another harmless point shot during an excessively cautious game.
Don't get me wrong, I still love the sport and delight in the little things in almost any bout,*** yet it's frustrating when you cannot help but shake the feeling that it could be so much better. After all, it's much easier to brag about a game your team won when everyone else is awake to experience it with you, isn't it?
Khudobin and Luongo's respective performances gave me the serious willies that we'll be sitting through two-and-a-half months of teams getting 2-1 second period leads and then just hoping things will sort of work out.
In Luongo's case, his Florida Panthers allowed the San Jose Sharks to pile up a 29-2 shot advantage in the third period and a 54-24 disparity overall. (Yes, the Sharks had more third-period shots than Florida managed all game.) The Panthers won 3-2 after the Sharks only beat Luongo once in that final frame.
Strangely, I think that the Carolina Hurricanes' "performance" might be more irritating for those who love watching two teams, you know, actually play hockey and try to score goals.
The Columbus Blue Jackets out-shot Carolina a ridiculous 19-0(!) in the third period, but couldn't overcome a 3-0 deficit, eventually losing 3-1. It's a more revolting bit of "strategy" because the gap between Columbus and Carolina isn't like The Grand Canyon of talent between the Sharks and Panthers. I mean, let's face it; if someone put a gun to your head and made you pick the winning team in a seven-game series, are you totally sure you wouldn't side with the Hurricanes' host of bigger names? I'd imagine you'd think it over a lot more than Sharks vs. Panthers, at least.
Even if you crow about score effects and low-quality shots, those third period outputs were ridiculous and kind of embarrassing. My concern is that they might also be bad for the game, as it seems like NHL coaches are always looking for the next way to reduce risks/destroy any semblance of creativity. (They're largely Terminators sent from the future to ruin all fun instead of taking out John Connor.)
Hopefully I'm wrong about that Boogie Man of Boredom showing up with disquieting frequency from April to June, though.
Kari Lehtonen returned from injury, but he couldn't stop the bleeding for the Dallas Stars, who lost 5-1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Stars show evidence of the downside of the style I'd like to see more of: higher risks can mean some ugly nights. Still, I believe their attacking style gives that flawed roster the best chance to win, even if it means having some rough nights … Vanek did indeed get his hat trick. I can't say that Montreal's the perfect destination for him (imagine Vanek finishing chances in Pittsburgh or even St. Louis?) but he's a legit sniper and will find a way to produce like this some nights … Jaroslav Halak was fantastic in getting his 28th win of the season. Washington's riding him like a workhorse, indeed … Matt Moulson scored two goals to make Tuesday especially miserable for his former team on Long Island … I wonder if the Devils would be in the East's top eight if they didn't let Martin Brodeur nostalgia swindle them. Brodeur might finally take that decision away from them by leaving this summer, though … If Robin Lehner isn't one of the goaltending disappointments of this season, he's at least up there for backups/usurpers. The Ottawa Senators are just a mess … Gustav Nyquist continues to distinguish himself on a battered Detroit Red Wings team. Meanwhile, James Reimer can't catch a break … Scott Hartnell is still only owned in 67 percent of leagues, so take a gander at your waiver wire for one of fantasy's better mid-tier power forwards.
* - Added bummers: it's fitting that a) Gary Bettman called February "The NHL's time" merely because there's less competition from other sports leagues [I mean, is anyone most interested in the NHL in January and February?] and b) the league seems serious about skipping the 2018 Olympics simply because the benefits are instant and obvious.
< --- Fumes.
** - Strong evidence to play your quality players even if they're struggling. Then again, if you have enough wingers to bench Vanek, you're probably on a gravy road with biscuit wheels anyway.
*** Except maybe the 2003 Western Conference final series between the Anaheim Ducks and Minnesota Wild ... sweet lord that was unwatchable. The Wild scored one goal in the entire series.